World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/47
10 December 1996
MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE Original: French
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
It is a great honour for me to address, today, the first Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization and to offer you greetings and best wishes for success on behalf of the President of the Republic of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
I would like to begin by paying a special tribute to the Government and people of Singapore for their warm welcome, their generous hospitality, and the spirit of perfectionism shown throughout the organization of this Conference.
I would also like, on behalf of my Government, to thank and congratulate the Director-General of the WTO and his staff for their devotion, their competence and their sense of responsibility.
Finally, I would like to thank the Members of the WTO, and particularly our fellow African countries, for the consideration and confidence shown towards my country in choosing us to represent Africa among the Officers of the Conference.
This circumstance is of particular importance to Tunisia which, having acceded to the GATT in 1990, took the initiative of ratifying the WTO Agreement as early as January 1995 and has taken the necessary steps to implement the Marrakesh Agreements.
In keeping with that course of action, Tunisia intends to contribute to the success of this Conference by engaging actively in consultations and dialogue.
Since the changes of 7 November 1987 and alongside its comprehensive political reforms, Tunisia has been engaged in a process of thorough economic and social restructuring affecting investment, trade, taxation, the financial system, privatization and human resources.
In connection with this overall reform, which aims to achieve integral development and increased participation in world economic activities, Tunisia has opted for economic liberalism and the promotion of private initiative throughout the economy.
The success of Tunisia's experiment lies in the progressive nature of reform measures, the complementarity and interdependence of the different elements of the process, the concerted action of all of the country's driving forces and the harmony, balance and proper correlation between the economic and social dimensions of the process.
Thanks to these different reforms, which complimented each other, Tunisia has been able to achieve encouraging results in all areas: growth, diversification of production, debt reduction, exports, reduction of balance-of-payments pressure, balancing of public finances and inflation.
Thus, Tunisia was able to proceed confidently with the implementation of the WTO Agreements and become the first country on the southern shores of the Mediterranean to conclude an association agreement with the European Union, our main economic partner.
In keeping with its gradual approach, Tunisia allowed for a transitional period to implement a vast programme to bring the economy as a whole up to standard, thereby increasing its competitiveness and enabling it to deal with the challenges of complete liberalization.
The strengthening of the ability of enterprises to face international competition remains a key element of this strategy.
The business environment will also undergo far-reaching change in all areas relating to support institutions and administration, legislation, basic infrastructure and human resources.
Like most of the African countries, Tunisia is convinced that development is first and foremost a national responsibility.
However, the challenges of integration into an increasingly liberalized world economy are enormous.
The spectacular development of technology and the free circulation of goods and services have meant that products traded on the world market must now be highly competitive, and it is up to the developing countries to acquire that competitiveness.
This requires an enormous effort on the part of the countries of Africa, and they do not have the resources to face the challenge on their own.
The support of the international community, in a spirit of international solidarity and collective responsibility, is essential to the success of any promising experiment by countries which have demonstrated their determination and their real desire to participate fully in the commendable effort to liberalize trade on an international scale, conducted under the auspices of the WTO. World stability will depend largely on the stability and development of Africa.
At this important stage in the history of the WTO, a stage devoted in particular to evaluation and planning, our Conference provides an opportunity not only to review and assess our accomplishments, but also to collectively establish basic guidelines for the Organization's future.
I would like to highlight two concepts in this connection: transparency and cooperation.
Against this background of readjustment and restructuring resulting from the establishment of the WTO, it is our particular responsibility to develop a much more flexible approach and to place the implementation dimension in its historical context.
While this process requires strengthening, it should in no way divert our attention from, or cause us to underestimate, the difficulties inherent in globalization of the world economy.
With that in mind, Tunisia has decided to push ahead and continue implementing its commitments, taking all the necessary steps to become a full member of the multilateral trade system and to support all appropriate initiatives aimed at strengthening and consolidating that system.
Although the implementation of these commitments has not posed any particular problem for my country, whose economic foundations are now ready for the integration of the agreements into its economic and legal system, the fact remains that any effort to increase the pace of the liberalization and globalization movement could have a disruptive effect on the development programmes that have been decided upon and make it more difficult and challenging to implement our commitments in an appropriate environment and as planned.
Consequently, we think that in reviewing the WTO's work programme, due attention should be paid both to the need to ensure adequate participation of the developing countries, particularly the African countries, in the Organization's work, and to the necessity of enabling the WTO to face the challenges of the future.
Let me also underscore our expectations, as an African country, with respect to technical assistance. In October 1994, we met at ministerial level in Tunis, where we assessed the results of the Uruguay Round and identified our needs in that respect. We welcome the commitment by the WTO, UNCTAD and the ITC to cooperate in ensuring improved aid for our countries.
This effort will require increased involvement of the donor countries and organizations in mobilizing the resources needed to implement the programme and thus ensure the full and successful integration of the African countries into the global economy.
I would also like to stress that we attach great importance to the implementation of the Decision on Measures concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries. We do not want to start a discussion on the factors and reasons leading to the adjustment of the price of certain foodstuffs; suffice it to say to say that we are awaiting the application of the recommendations adopted in that respect by the appropriate WTO bodies.
As regards plans for the future I would like to insist, without prejudice to the interests of individual countries or to any decision that might be reached on the subject, on the virtues of rational dialogue and the advantages of mutual consultation.
With respect to the items in the Declaration that did not meet with the agreement of all delegations, we are aware of the difficulties and the considerations underlying the reluctance and the concern that has been expressed. Our chief aim is to try to ensure, however slight our chances of success, that we will be able to continue our discussions and our work on the basis of the rule of consensus, which is essential to the future of our Organization.
Aware of the complexity and sensitivity of certain issues which some Members are trying to include in the future programme of the WTO, Tunisia is in favour of initiating any process that will enable us to deepen our discussions, to prepare ourselves sufficiently in advance and to take account of the legitimate concerns of the developing countries, in particular the African countries.
I would like to conclude my statement by underscoring the need to facilitate the admission to our Organization of new countries as a means of confirming its universal character and of allowing those countries to participate fully in the liberalization and development of international trade.